The Political Life of a Cow
by Jan Baughman

They clothe us and nourish us and reassure us of our relative superiority on the intellect chain. We inject their protein into our wrinkles so that we may fool ourselves into believing we aren't aging. We brag about our leather seats and boots and belts. Cows are not generally considered sacred in the Western World, and we normally disengage from those we eat. Yet we made them a cultural icon in the 90's and scooped up cow knickknacks like fool's gold.

Then we speak from the other side of our mouth. We Americans blame cows for heart disease (we need a scape-goat for our destructive life style). In Britain, they are blamed for a much rarer but more frightening disorder, Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, allegedly linked to eating cows afflicted by Mad Cow Disease. We take peace-loving vegetarians, force-feed them with by-products of sheep and fellow cows, made them sick and then call THEM mad?

Most people don't give much thought to cows. They either eat them and use their skin, or they don't. However, those on both sides of the simple carnivore/herbivore debate tend to overlook the cow's immense political and social clout. Their influence on our habits reaches far beyond the dinner table, touching both social and religious practices. For example, one unexpected side effect of Mad Cow disease is unemployment for the French. Panic about the threat of this malady has plunged the Jewish religious establishment in Paris into financial crisis and labor strife. As beef consumption dropped by 35%, kosher slaughter business dropped 30-40%, resulting in a 50% drop in revenues. Approximately 1000 employees of the consistory which owns most of the temples of Paris are facing pay cuts and layoffs. Rabbis are threatening to strike.

Cows also practice Catholicism, and they do not just destroy; in fact, in some instances, they may SAVE lives. John Cardinal O'Connor urged Roman Catholics to return to the traditional practice of not eating meat on Fridays as a protest if Congress failed to override President Clinton's veto of a bill outlawing late-term abortions. Save a cow, save a baby. It's time we face reality and give cows the respect they deserve. That's not to say we must worship them, but we cannot deny their influence; nor can we predict where it will next be manifested.

Published September 25, 1996
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